The long-term health effects of drug abuse can depend entirely upon the type of drugs being abused. The one long-term effect that all drugs of abuse have in common, of course, is addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a disease that develops as a result of one’s tolerance to specific drugs. When an individual exposes their body and brain to certain chemicals repeatedly, their brain gets used to the effects. In order to receive the same euphoria they have experienced in the past, someone who abuses drugs for recreational or medical purposes will need to take more of the drugs in higher doses. Eventually, the individual may experience withdrawal symptoms when they are unable to obtain and use their drug or drugs of choice.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by the psychiatric and psychological community to consistently diagnose mental illnesses, there are certain criteria that must be met in order for addiction to be present.
These criteria include:
- The individual must continue to use drugs despite the negative effects the drug use has on their daily life.
- The individual must have developed tolerance to the drugs they choose to abuse so they need more on a consistent basis to achieve the same effects as smaller amounts provided in the past.
- The individual may have tried to stop using drugs or decrease the amount used in the past, but been unable to successfully do so.
- The individual must place a higher regard on drug abuse than on other social, vocational, or family responsibilities – an example may be choosing to use drugs rather than to attend their child’s music or dance recital.
- The individual must experience withdrawal symptoms when they are unable to use drugs.
- When the person uses drugs, they are unable to control how much they consume.
- The individual spends a disproportionate amount of time finding the drugs, using the drugs, or recovering from the use of those drugs.
As with other conditions, it is not necessary that a person experience all these symptoms. According to experts, the presence of only three of these symptoms can indicate an addiction exists.
The criteria for drug abuse, even if addiction does not develop, are still troubling. The symptoms might include an inability to fulfill responsibilities and obligations at home, on the job, or in school. An individual may choose to drive a motor vehicle, or spend time in dangerous surroundings to obtain drugs. Someone who suffers from drug abuse may find they are still using drugs even if they’ve suffered legal problems such as being arrested. Finally, this individual may continuously experience social problems – such as family fights – about their drug use and still be unable to stop using drugs.
Not every person who chooses to abuse drugs will develop the disease of addiction. An individual can spend many years suffering from drug abuse. Even if they are never diagnosed with addiction, they can still suffer other long-term negative effects.
Long-Term Effects of Marijuana Abuse
The passing of several laws recently that have legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes has increased the debate over whether marijuana is safe. It is important to keep in mind that many substances that are legal to use, such as cigarettes and alcohol, are still dangerously addictive and can be unhealthy. In the case of marijuana, studies have shown that individuals who use this drug regularly suffer cognitive drawbacks, such as the inability to learn and remember.
These are not the only negative effects. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has stated that up to half of those individuals who smoke marijuana on a daily basis will develop addiction. Perhaps more concerning is the likelihood that someone with a predisposition to schizophrenia can develop the condition because of the addition of marijuana to the equation.
Effects of Cocaine Abuse
Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that creates its euphoric effects by working on the part of the brain that is related to the reward system. The brain is made up of many different brain cells. Each of the cells contains the material needed to create neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, designed to communicate between cells. The brain cells also contain the receptors needed to understand the messages provided by those neurotransmitters. The space between two brain cells is known as the synapse.
Imagine a kitchen sink. If we turn on the tap and pour water into the sink, the excess water will escape down the drain. If we put a stopper in the drain, the sink will overflow. In this example, the sink represents the synapse – or the empty space between the brain cells. The water represents dopamine – the neurotransmitter responsible for reward and pleasure among other things—and the drain represents the cells of the brain that absorb the excess dopamine. Cocaine is like the stopper in the drain. With the introduction of cocaine, the brain will continue to create dopamine, which makes us feel excited and energized – happy – until the synapse overflows, thus creating the euphoric, larger-than-life reactions the drug abuser is looking for.
Unfortunately, when the effects of the cocaine have worn off, the individual is likely to experience depression because of the missing dopamine. The effects of cocaine do not last very long, and the individual will often seek another dose as quickly as possible to recreate the effects. It is this frequency of use, known as binging, that makes cocaine one of the most addictive substances abused.
Long-term abuse of cocaine, because it is a caustic substance, includes destruction of the sinus passages in the nose which can result in chronic nosebleeds. Eventually, chronic use of cocaine can become far less enjoyable over time and result in disturbing symptoms such as paranoia, irritability, an inability to identify with the real world, and even hallucinations.
There are several ways that drug users ingest cocaine. Some individuals inject cocaine directly into the veins which increases the risk of blood borne illnesses due to the sharing of drug paraphernalia. These illnesses might include HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. In some cases, the mixtures that are obtained from disreputable sources can contain deadly poisons.
Long-Term Consequences of Methamphetamine Use
Methamphetamine is another stimulant that can drastically affect how the brain works after long-term use. Also affecting dopamine, an individual who has used methamphetamines chronically over the long-term may be unable to experience the same emotions naturally that they were capable of experiencing before they began to use drugs. For instance, they may be unable to experience the joy of the birth of the child, or they may no longer experience the rush of emotion and physical pleasure associated with sex. Because of the tolerance that develops, they may be unable to experience these feelings even with the assistance of methamphetamine.
Physically, methamphetamine abuse can change how an individual looks. A condition known as a “meth mouth” is brought on by two circumstances caused by methamphetamine. The first is an excessively dry mouth. The moisture and saliva in the human mouth has a purpose; it is responsible for killing harmful bacteria and for beginning digestion process when we eat. The second negative effect to the teeth due to methamphetamine abuse is the grinding of teeth brought on by the anxiousness and restlessness caused by this powerful drug. When these two circumstances are combined, a chronic methamphetamine abuser might ultimately lose their teeth.
Effects to Families and Children
Drug abuse affects more than just the person who takes drugs. Drug abuse can negatively affect an entire family, perhaps for generations. When an individual abuses drugs, particularly if they do so in front of their children, but even if they hide this aspect of their life from their children, they drastically increase the chances that their own children will abuse drugs. If their children grow up to abuse drugs, they increase the chance that the next generation of children will abuse drugs, and the cycle continues. Other long-term risks of drug abuse can include:
- Chronic nightmares
- Anxiety disorders
- Mood disturbances
- Violent behavior
- Damage to crucial internal organs, such as the liver, kidney and lungs
The most effective way to eliminate the risks of these terrible long-term health effects is to seek help as quickly as possible for yourself or someone in your life who is abusing drugs. With proper treatment, it is possible to overcome drug abuse and addiction. It is possible to end the cycle of abuse and begin living a healthy, happy, and productive life. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact us here at The Oaks at La Paloma to find out more information about the disease of addiction and the treatments available.